Dozens of Rohingya face charges for illegal travel in Myanmar after fleeing Rakhine state

YANGON (Reuters) – Dozens of Rohingya Muslims, including two children, appeared in court in Myanmar on Friday, the latest group to face charges after attempting to flee conflict-torn Rakhine state.

The group of about 20 were among 54 people from the Rohingya minority arrested on Wednesday on the outskirts of the commercial capital Yangon while trying to leave for Malaysia, according to judge Thida Aye.

“The immigration officer submitted the case because they found no identification cards from these people,” she told Reuters.

Some were barefoot, others clothed in colorful head-scarfs, as they were ushered into the small courtroom in Yangon. A small boy was naked from the waist down.

Defense lawyer Nay Myo Zar said they had fled Rakhine state, the western region where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya live in apartheid-like conditions and have come under increasing pressure as government troops battle ethnic rebels.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh in 2017 to escape a military-led crackdown that U.N investigators have said was carried out with “genocidal intent” and included mass killings and rapes.

Myanmar says the army was fighting a legitimate counter-insurgency campaign against militants who attacked security posts.

Some 600,000 Rohingya remain in the country, confined to camps and villages where they are unable to travel freely or access healthcare and education. The vast majority lack citizenship.

The government says it is working on a national strategy to close camps and that Rohingya would not face movement restrictions if they accepted a so-called national verification card, which many reject, saying it labels them foreigners.

Rakhine state has for the past year been rocked by increasingly intense clashes between government troops and fighters from the Arakan Army, an insurgent group comprised of ethnic Rakhine, another mostly Buddhist minority.

Myanmar’s army said in a statement on Friday it would hold more court-martials over alleged abuses against Rohingya Muslims, after a government-appointed commission concluded soldiers committed war crimes.

For years, Rohingya on both sides of the border have attempted to flee for Thailand and Malaysia, some boarding boats organized by smugglers, a dangerous journey that has cost many lives.

On Thursday, 93 Rohingya arrested in November after they were found on a beach in the Irrawaddy delta region appeared in a separate court to face charges of traveling illegally, Radio Free Asia reported.

Hundreds more have been imprisoned in jails and youth detention centers across the country.

(Reporting by Yangon bureau; Editing by Ros Russell)

Protesters left on besieged HK campus weigh their options

By Kate Lamb and Jessie Pang

HONG KONG (Reuters) – At least eight protesters who had been holding out at a trashed Hong Kong university surrendered on Friday, while others searched for escape routes past riot police who surrounded the campus but said there was no deadline for ending the standoff.

The siege at the Polytechnic University on the Kowloon peninsula appeared to be nearing an end with the number of protesters dwindling to a handful, days after some of the worst violence since anti-government demonstrations escalated in June.

Police chief Chris Tang, who took up the post this week, urged those remaining inside to come out.

“I believe people inside the campus do not want their parents, friends … to worry about them,” Tang told reporters.

Those who remain say they want to avoid being arrested for rioting or on other charges, so hope to find some way to slip past the police or hide.

Sitting in the largely deserted campus, one holdout described how his girlfriend had pleaded with him to surrender to the police.

He had refused, he said, telling her she might as well find another partner because he would likely go to jail.

“A man has to abandon everything otherwise it’s impossible to take part in a revolution,” the protester told Reuters.

Another man sitting nearby agreed, saying it was just as well he was divorced because a “man with family cannot make it to here.”

The campus was so quiet on Friday you could hear the chants of Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers exercising on their nearby base.

Many levels of the buildings look like abandoned rebel hideouts strewn with remains — rucksacks, masks, water bottles, cigarette butts, with security cameras smashed throughout. Lockers were stuffed with gas masks and black clothes, and a samurai sword lay on the ground where it was abandoned.

“We are feeling a little tired. All of us feel tired but we will not give up trying to get out,” said a 23-year-old demonstrator who gave his name as Shiba as he ate noodles in the protesters’ canteen.

A Reuters reporter saw six black-clad protesters holding hands walk towards police lines, while a first aid worker said two more surrendered later.

The protests snowballed from June after years of resentment over what many residents see as Chinese meddling in freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Protesters, who have thrown fire bombs and rocks and fired bows and arrows at police, are calling for full democracy and an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality, among other demands.

Police have responded to the attacks with rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon and occasional live rounds but say they have acted with restraint in life-threatening situations.

On Friday Hong Kong’s High Court said it would temporarily suspend its ruling that found a controversial law banning protesters from wearing face masks is unconstitutional.

The court said it would suspend its ruling for seven days while appeals processes proceeded.

Beijing has said it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong is governed. It denies meddling in its affairs and accuses foreign governments, including Britain and the United States, of stirring up trouble.

One older protester, who estimated only about 30 demonstrators remained, said some had given up looking for escape routes and were now making new weapons to protect themselves in case police stormed the campus.

There have been two days and nights of relative calm in the city ahead of district council elections that are due to take place on Sunday.

Tang said police would adopt a “high-profile” presence on Sunday and he appealed to protesters to refrain from violence so people feel safe to vote.

(Reporting by Clare Jim, Alun John, Kate Lamb, Jessie Pang and Felix Tam; Writing by By Anne Marie Roantree, Marius Zaharia, Nick Macfie and Josh Smith; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel and Philippa Fletcher)

Turkey orders detention of 100 former police officers in post-coup probe: Anadolu

Turkey orders detention of 100 former police officers in post-coup probe: Anadolu

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish authorities issued detention warrants on Saturday for 100 former police officers and have so far detained 63 of them, the state-run Anadolu news agency said, as part of a widening crackdown since last year’s failed coup attempt.

The suspects were believed to be users of ByLock, an encrypted messaging app which the government says was used by the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, accused by Ankara of orchestrating last July’s abortive putsch.

Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, denies involvement.

Anadolu said security forces were seeking the suspects in 19 provinces across the country.

Since the abortive coup, more than 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial over alleged links to Gulen, while 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from jobs in the military, public and private sectors.

Rights groups and some of Turkey’s Western allies have voiced concern about the crackdown, fearing the government is using the coup as a pretext to quash dissent.

The government says only such a purge could neutralize the threat represented by Gulen’s network, which it says deeply infiltrated institutions such as the army, schools and courts.

 

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Adrian Croft)

 

Two juveniles charged with arson in Tennessee wildfires that killed 14

Firefighters stand by a destroyed home after a wildfire forced the mandatory evacuation of Gatlinburg, Tennessee

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – Two juveniles were charged with arson on Wednesday in connection with the eastern Tennessee wildfires that broke out last month in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in which 14 people died, officials said.

Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman Josh DeVine declined to release details about the juveniles, who have been arrested, citing their ages and the ongoing investigation.

The fires have been centered in Sevier County just east of Knoxville and have damaged or destroyed more than 1,750 structures, local and federal authorities said in a statement.

It was the highest death toll from wildfires in the United States since 2013, when 19 firefighters died near Prescott, Arizona.

“Our promise is that we will do our very best to help bring closure to those who have lost so much,” Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn said in a statement.

The two youths were charged with aggravated arson and were held at a juvenile detention center in Sevier County, the bureau said in a statement.

It added that authorities from the National Park Service, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Sevier County Sheriff’s Office participated in the probe.

The largest of the blazes, the so-called Chimney Tops 2, broke out on Nov. 23 in a remote rugged area dubbed Chimney Tops in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, authorities said.

Fed by drought-parched brush and trees and stoked by fierce winds, the flames quickly spread, turning into an inferno that roared out of the park. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes and businesses.

Authorities have said since last week that the fire was human caused.

A large amount of the damage was in Gatlinburg, known as the “gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains,” in eastern Tennessee, about 40 miles (64 km) southeast of Knoxville.

At one point, residents of Pigeon Forge, which is home to country music star Dolly Parton’s theme park Dollywood, were forced to leave the area. Dollywood has since re-opened.

Parton and other performers will put on a show Dec. 13 on the Great American Country channel to raise funds for people affected by the fires, Parton’s company said in a statement.

The Chimney Tops 2 Fire is 64 percent contained after burning more than 17,000 acres (6,880 hectares), according to the government tracking website InciWeb.

Rainfall over the last week has helped firefighters control the blazes.

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Tunisia Arrests 23-Member Terror Cell

Tunisian officials announced that a 23-member terror cell has been arrested in connection with the attack on the Bardo Museum that left 20 tourists and police dead.

All of the members of the jihadist network were Tunisian.  Officials say they are looking for another Tunisian, two Moroccans and an Algerian who have connections to the terrorist networks.

The Tunisian man was identified as Maher Ben Mouldi Kaidi, also known as the “third attacker”, that provided the weapons for the terror attack.

The investigators say they have confirmation that the group was connected with Al-Qaeda, not ISIS as originally believed by some investigators.  The group was working with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

AQIM had been the segment of the terrorist group that had been in control of much of Mali until French forces drove them out of the major cities and into the mountains.

 

Three Arrested In New York For Supporting ISIS

Three New York residents have been arrested in connection with support and attempts to join ISIS.

The three men, two with Uzebkistan citizenship and the other Kazakhstan, wanted to “wage jihad” and one said he would attempt to kill the President if he was ordered to do so by ISIS leadership.

The men were identified in the complaint as Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev,  24, a resident of Brooklyn and a citizen of Uzbekistan; Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, a resident of Brooklyn and a citizen of Kazakhstan; and Abror Habibov, 30, a resident of Brooklyn and a citizen of Uzbekistan.

The men were focused upon by federal authorities after making online statements supporting ISIS and calling for others to join with them to support ISIS.  They also posted online in foreign message boards attempting to recruit new ISIS members.

One was arrested at JFK Airport trying to board a plane to Turkey.  The other two men had place tickets for travel to the region within the next month.

The group also had plans to conduct domestic terror attacks if they could not make it to join ISIS in Syria.

“We will vigorously prosecute those who attempt to travel to Syria to wage violent jihad on behalf of ISIL and those who support them,” U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement. “Anyone who threatens our citizens and our allies, here or abroad, will face the full force of American justice.”